Michael Althoff is the CEO and founder of Yellotools, with locations in Windeck, Germany, and Los Angeles. He says the sign industry has had his heart since 1996.
“Signmaking is the best job in the world,” is what Yellotools prints on all of its T-shirts, and it is what the company really believes.
“Signmaking is so versatile,” Althoff says. “We have to deal with old-school hand-crafts and also with the latest technologies. Signmakers are artists, engineers, psychologists and sometimes even spiritual directors as well. We have to deal with all kinds of materials, colors, crafts and technologies. No day is boring at all. That´s why I love this industry.”
Over the years, Althoff discovered that he and too many of his fellow signmakers suffered because of shrinking margins, overburdens, wasted motions and way too much “non-value added” activities in their daily life.
After meeting his mentor Paul Akers from Bellingham, Wash., they were able to bring LEAN-Thinking into the industry. This powerful concept and culture helps signmakers around the world to survive tough economies and bring back the joy of working in our daily lives. To teach LEAN-Thinking, also known as KAIZEN or the Toyota-Production System, to signmakers is really Althoff’s passion.
“Our No. 1 philosophy of Yellotools is ‘Grow people,’” Althoff says. “If our customers, our vendors, suppliers and of course our workers grow— then I can grow as well—there is no other way than that for me.”
Yellotools invents and produces nothing but tools for signmakers in Germany and in the USA. All of its inventions are focused on the “LEAN-Thinking Aspects” of the signmaker’s job, to eliminate wasting time with “non-value added” activities.
Althoff developed the “DbS-System,” meaning Designed-by-Signmakers. Signmakers from all over the world call Yellotools and tell them their ideas or their pains. Yellotools produces a product to address these needs and points out the name of the origin-idea-holder in their catalogs.
Yellotools also educates and supports signschools, academies and volunteer projects in our industry and donates toolsets to those who can’t afford proper equipment.